The eccentric, the kick ass, the nurturer and the disciplinarian – we celebrate the ten classic movie mums of all time this Mother’s Day.
'We Need to Talk About Kevin' (2011)
Carrying difficult material on sturdy shoulders, the great Tilda Swinton plays the guilt-ridden mother of a high-school psychopath (Ezra Miller) who destroys a community’s future. The movie plays out in complex chronology, as ominous moments of child rearing alternate with nightmarish scenes from a red-hued aftermath.
This seminal franchise is chock-full of maternal figures, from Sigourney Weaver’s badass nurturer Ripley to the USCSS Nostromo’s computer (named, aptly, Mother). But for our money, nobody beats this film’s Xenomorph queen – a fearsome, egg-spouting creature that set the standard for modern sci-fi mum-strosities.
'The Fighter' (2010)
Don’t go head-to- head with this Massachusetts mauler, or you’ll get the taste pounded out of you – and no, we’re not referring to Mark Wahlberg or Christian Bale. Boxing manager Melissa Leo beats up her husband, disciplines frizzy-haired intruders (‘What are you doing opening your mouth in my kitchen?’) and fiercely protects her turf.
'Sophie's Choice' (1982)
We live in the Golden Age of Streep, in which film after film, America’s most accomplished actor seems unable to hit a false note. But hard as it is to fathom, there was a time when Meryl had to prove herself, and even after supplying sharp supporting work in late-’70s triumphs like ‘The Deer Hunter’, ‘Manhattan’ and ‘Kramer vs Kramer’, there was still a mountain for her to climb. ‘Sophie’s Choice’ was that breakthrough, the elusive peak attained. Most of the film takes place in a Brooklyn boardinghouse, where the title character (Streep), a Polish Holocaust survivor; her manic lover (Kevin Kline); and their neighbour, a young writer (Peter MacNicol), come to a kind of familiarity. Slowly, the movie begins to probe the cracks of their intimacy, and a secret tears the trio apart. Sophie’s choice, as we learn in a powerhouse climax, is no choice at all – it’s the apocalypse to any parent. Essentially, we bear witness.
‘A boy’s best friend is his mother,’ claims Norman Bates, proprietor of the family-run Bates Motel. For most of Alfred Hitchcock’s era-defining horror film, we only see glimpses of Mrs Bates via a furtive rush through the frame here, a knife-wielding silhouette there. But her spectre hovers over every scene that follows Janet Leigh’s entrance to this roadside establishment – right up until the moment we finally meet the lady of the house. Hitch’s tale of the ultimate mama’s boy tries to explain away their unique bond courtesy of a notoriously wonky epilogue, but viewers have already tap-danced through a Freudian minefield regarding the mother-son relationship and its potential for psychological dependency. Still, for all the damage done, it’s not like Mrs Bates is a maniac or a raving thing. She just goes… a little mad sometimes.
'Rosemary's Baby' (1968)
Yes, Mia Farrow spends most of Roman Polanski’s urban nightmare as an expectant mother-to-be. But once she gets over her initial shock – her newborn has ‘his father’s eyes’, after all – watch how the ultimate baby-bump horror film becomes, oddly, a tribute to maternal instinct triumphing over all. Even if your kid is a real devil.
Hearing a hunter approach, the mother of Disney’s titular fawn urges him to flee, running beside the scared white-tailed little deer. ‘We made it!’ Bambi cries upon reaching the woods, until the youngster realises he’s alone – a traumatic moment that’s taught generations of underage viewers about parental sacrifice.
There were evil females in Disney toons before this animated retelling of the Charles Perrault fairy tale; who could forget the vengeful queen from ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’? But it’s this heartless harridan of a stepmum that really sets the template for the Mouse House’s horrible mother figures. She’s a permanently scowling woman who enslaves her late husband’s daughter, goads her own offspring to rip Cinderella’s makeshift gown off her body (a rape by any other name), and eventually locks her in a tower to keep her from her one true love. This was the flip side of the kind, loving mum from children’s movies, and the character’s nightmarish parody of Mother as cruel taskmaster would colour every happily-ever-after princess story from then on.
'Mildred Pierce' (1945)
Who was Joan Crawford, really? Conflicting stories swirl, but on one point, there can be no disagreement: She was a survivor. Even after Crawford found herself dumped by MGM, her contract terminated because she was deemed too old (at age 39), she campaigned vigorously for a competing studio’s prize role, won the part and wrote another chapter in her career. Mildred is the movie’s definitive transitional character, relying on an actor’s sense of youthful confidence as well as an ability to subsume ego to give way to the next (perhaps unworthy) generation. A waitress-turned-proprietor, Mildred lives for her children and suffers for their sins; she is a new kind of American businesswoman who is still trapped by sexist expectations. Crawford’s performance quakes with pain; it will always resonate with mums who go for it all.
'Terminator 2: Judgment Day’ (1991)
Irrevocably changed by her first cyborg-from-the- future encounter, mankind’s saviour Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) has become a stunningly buffed-up, gun-toting survivalist in James Cameron’s blockbuster sequel. Cast one wrong glance at her boy, and it’s hasta la vista, baby.